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20 Quick Tips to Improve Your Productivity

We all want to be productive, right? And no matter how productive we are, we all want to be more productive still. This is good, assuming we have defined productivity in a good way, perhaps something like “Using my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God” (which, as you may know, is the definition I propose in my book Do More Better). To that end, here are 20 real-world, time-tested tips to improve your productivity.

  1. Be curious. When you meet someone who appears to be especially productive or organized, ask him or her for tips. I have learned a lot by reading great books, but even more by asking others how they manage their time, how they built a system, and how they have learned to be successful in their tasks.
  2. Plan to recite and remember. Use your task management software to remind you to review things you have memorized. I love to memorize Scripture and poetry and have my software set to remind me each day to review a different poem or Bible passage. This habit ensures that they remain fresh in my mind.
  3. Break it down. Be careful of tasks that are dauntingly huge. “Write: A Great Novel” is so giant a task you may never begin, and even if you do, you will be unable to track your progress. Break giant tasks into a series of smaller tasks and work through them progressively.
  4. Use a password manager. We all have a lot of passwords to remember today—passwords for email and Facebook and banking and just about everything else. A password manager can be a very helpful tool. Begin by going online and searching for 1Password or LastPass. These programs will help you remember your passwords while also increasing the strength of your passwords.
  5. Use strong passwords. A bad password is, well, bad. You make a criminal’s life exponentially more difficult if you determine you will use stronger and better passwords. There is much debate as to what constitutes a good password, but whatever else you believe, a good password is one that protects your account and one that you can actually remember. I recommend using four random words strung together. This kind of password is more memorable than a random string of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks and actually offers better protection. A mnemonic device, perhaps a silly little scenario that uses all four words, can help you remember your new password.
  6. Create a not-to-do list. Create a note or document that will contain a not-to-do list. Make this a list of bad productivity habits you are trying to break, and go over this list each week during your weekly review. My not-to-do list includes “Do not drink coffee after 2 p.m,” “Do not leave email open all day,” and “Do not agree to meetings that have no agenda or no end-time.”
  7. Set a time-limit on meetings. Meetings tend to expand to fill the time you give them. You will probably find that you can get as much done in a short and focused meeting as in a long and unfocused one. Be sure that all participants know when the meeting begins and when it ends. Begin on time and end on time.
  8. Prioritize personal devotions. Productivity is fueled by the spiritual disciplines. You are not truly productive if you get things done all day while neglecting your soul. Be careful that your personal devotions do not become just another item to check off your to-do list.
  9. Stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is rarely effective and almost never leads to increased productivity. Whenever possible choose a task, take it to completion, and then move on to the next one.
  10. Move around. Sometimes a change of scenery is as good as time off. If you are doing creative work, try bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop, switching every couple of hours. If you usually work from the kitchen table, try switching to a different room for a few hours. The quiet room at the local library is one of my favorite places to hole up for a couple of hours of writing.
  11. Learn to delegate. Delegation is a rare skill, but refusing to delegate can rob you of time you could spend doing the most important things. Think creatively about who may be able to handle some of the tasks that keep you from getting other things accomplished. What may be drudgery to you may be a joy to someone else. What you do poorly someone else may be able to do with excellence.
  12. Track your time. Every now and again it may be helpful to audit your use of time. You can do this manually by simply recording start and stop times in a journal or automatically by using software tools such as Toggl or RescueTime. Auditing your time will show you when and where you are most efficient productive while also showing you when and where you tend to waste time.
  13. Don’t leave email open. Set aside specific times in the day when you will check email, and keep it closed at all other times. Most of us can make do very well even if we check email only once or twice in a day.
  14. Plan to rest. Plan to take at least one day out of every week where you rest from as many responsibilities as you can. If you do not plan this day it will soon get away from you, so plan when it will be and plan how you will use it.
  15. Turn off notifications. Whenever possible turn off notifications on your electronic devices. You probably do not need to be notified every time you receive an email or every time your friends update Facebook. Fight against the distraction that seems to grow with every new generation of software and devices.
  16. Write it down. If you don’t write it down you will probably forget it. Most of us live with the dread that many of our best ideas are forever lost because we forgot to write them down. As soon as you have an idea, get it typed out or down and then get it into your system. You may forget, but Evernote or your Moleskine doesn’t.
  17. Take breaks. Breaks may seem like lost productivity, but they actually enhance your productivity. Schedule breaks into your day and enjoy them guilt-free. The busier your day, the more important they will be. So get up for a few minutes, walk around the block, get hot (if your workplace is cold) or cold (if your workplace is hot), grab a cup of coffee, and get back into it.
  18. Get accountability. Have someone check in with you on a regular basis (perhaps during a team meeting) to ask if you are keeping up with your productivity system. Having something or someone outside the system prompting you to maintain the system will help keep you going when motivation is low.
  19. Don’t send unnecessary email. Sending unnecessary email means you will also receive unnecessary email. Send sparingly and you will receive sparingly.
  20. Exercise. I know it seems counterintuitive, but sometimes the best thing you can do for productivity is to stop trying to be so productive and to spend some time exercising. Productivity is about all of life and requires all of your body and mind. Make sure you make time to get fit and to stay fit.

(If you have read Do More Better, you may recognize this as a bonus chapter from the end of it.)


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